Mastering the motion

‘Masters of Motion’ in Providence
By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  February 12, 2008
THE LEAVES ARE FADING: Antony Tudor’s piece challenged the company.

“Masters of Motion” is the kind of catch-all title for a dance bill that encompasses everything and puts you in mind of nothing — but it would be hard to argue with the three pieces that Festival Ballet Providence presented under that rubric this past weekend: Antony Tudor’s The Leaves Are Fading (created for American Ballet Theatre in 1975), Viktor Plotnikov’s Coma (created for FBP just last year), and Agnes de Mille’s Rodeo (created for Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1942). In other words, something English, something Euromodern, and something American. If you couldn’t find something you liked, you probably don’t like dance.

At the Veterans Memorial Auditorium, moreover, it was well presented enough to justify the trip from Boston (where this critic is based). The Leaves Are Fading is tea-garden Tudor, bookended by a woman (Jolanta Valeikaite at the VMA) walking about in a long filmy gown and sniffing a red rose. There are 15 dancers, six men and nine women, in rose pink and orange and white, and at first the work draws energy from the imbalance of five men partnering five women while the three remaining women try not to look like wallflowers. That isn’t Tudor’s real interest, however, and though there are some refreshing moments — two women dancing hand in hand in the absence of men; a women with a male partner who looks at the new two men who suddenly offer themselves and decides to stick with the guy she’s got; a woman who leaves her head on her guy’s shoulder while the next couple dance — they’re just way stations to the various pas de deux at the heart of The Leaves Are Fading.

In her New Yorker review of the ballet’s premiere, an essay titled “Sweet Love Remembered,” Arlene Croce (who was born in Providence) wrote that “the piece doesn’t rise to a major statement until the entrance of Gelsey Kirkland, about halfway through.” Festival Ballet Providence has some fine dancers, but no Gelsey Kirkland, and indeed this performance didn’t look like major Tudor. Croce went on to argue, “Much of the material is too difficult for dancers unused to such delicacy and intricacy.” The FBP production was staged by former ABT principal Amanda McKerrow and former ABT soloist John Gardner, and I thought the dancers — especially Leticia Guerrero (in the Gelsey Kirkland role) with Mark Harootian — were delicate and intricate enough, but the pas de deux all had the same profile and intensity. (So did the music, Dvorák’s The Cypress and other chamber music by that composer.) It was pleasing, it was pleasant, and perhaps if I had been better acquainted with the dancers, it would have seemed more. Croce’s caveat holds, all the same: can FBP go where ABT should perhaps fear to tread?

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